The African lion is facing extinction across the entire West African region, a report has revealed, with just 250 adult lions left following a 'catastrophic collapse' in their numbers
A report led by conservation group Panthera found that West African lions now only exist in five countries - Senegal, Nigeria and on the shared borders of Benin, Niger and Burkina Faso.
Dr Philipp Henschel, lead author and head of the Lion Program Survey Coordinator said this figure comes in stark contrast to the number of lions believed to be surviving in West Africa in 2006.
He said: "When we set out in 2006 to survey all the lions of West Africa, the best reports suggested they still survived in 21 protected areas.
"We surveyed all of them, representing the best remaining lion habitat in West Africa. Our results came as a complete shock; all but a few of the areas we surveyed were basically paper parks, having neither management budgets nor patrol staff, and had lost all their lions and other iconic large mammals."
Dr. Christine Breitenmoser, the co-chair of the IUCN/SCC Cat Specialist Group, which determines the conservation status of wild cats around the world, said West African lions have unique genetic sequences not found in any other lions, including in zoos or captivity - making their conservation "even more urgent".
She warned: "If we lose the lion in West Africa, we will lose a unique, locally adapted population found no-where else."
Lions have disappeared across Africa as human populations and their livestock herds have grown, competing for land with lions and other wildlife. Wild savannas are converted for agriculture and cattle, the lion's natural prey is hunted out and lions are killed by pastoralists fearing the loss of their herds.
Today, fewer than 35,000 lions remain in Africa in about 25 per cent of the species' original range. In West Africa, the lion now survives in less than 50,000 square kilometres - smaller than half the size of New York State - and only one per cent of its original historic range in the region.
Panthera's President, Dr. Luke Hunter described the decline in numbers as a "catastrophic collapse", and warned the few countries that have managed to retain them are struggling with poverty and very little funding for conservation.
"To save the lion - and many other critically endangered mammals including unique populations of cheetahs, African wild dogs and elephants - will require a massive commitment of resources from the international community,” he added.
The Lion in West Africa is Critically Endangered is published in the journal PLOS One.
Join our new commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies